Quotations by:
    Hand, Learned


Heretics have been hateful from the beginning of recorded time; they have been ostracized, exiled, tortured, maimed, and butchered; but it has generally proved impossible to smother them; and when it has not, the society that has succeeded has always declined.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“A Fanfare for Prometheus,” speech, American Jewish Committee (1955-01-29)
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Risk for risk, for myself I had rather take my chance that some traitors will escape detection than spread abroad a spirit of general suspicion and distrust, which accepts rumor and gossip in place of undismayed and unintimidated inquiry.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“A Plea for the Open Mind and Free Discussion,” speech, University of the State of New York, Albany (1952-10-24)
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I believe that that community is already in process of dissolution where each man begins to eye his neighbor as a possible enemy, where non-conformity with the accepted creed, political as well as religious, is a mark of disaffection; where denunciation, without specification or backing, takes the place of evidence; where orthodoxy chokes freedom of dissent; where faith in the eventual supremacy of reason has become so timid that we are not enter our convictions into the open list, to win or lose. Such fears as these are a solvent which can eat out the cement that binds the stones together; they may in the end subject us to a despotism as evil as any that we dread; and they can be allayed only in so far as we refuse to proceed on suspicion, and trust one another until we have tangible ground for misgiving,

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“A Plea for the Open Mind and Free Discussion,” speech, University of the State of New York, Albany (1952-10-24)
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For ourselves and for the present, we are safe; our immediate peril is past. But for how long are we safe; and how far have we removed our peril? If our nation could not itself exist half slave and half free, are we sure that it can exist in a world half slave and half free? Is the same conflict less irrepressible when world wide than it was eighty years ago when it was only nation wide? Right knows no boundaries, and justice no frontiers; the brotherhood of man is not a domestic institution.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“A Pledge of Allegiance,” speech, Central Park, New York City (1945-05-20)
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His second "I Am an American Day" address. Collected in The Spirit of Liberty (1953).
 
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Life is made up of constant calls to action, and we seldom have time for more than hastily contrived answers; to follow one’s hunch is usually better than lying doggo, and rough generalizations that have worked well in the past easily easily take on the authority of universals. It does violence to our inner being to be obliged to give a hearing to opinions widely at variance with those we are accustomed to, and to come to a conclusion unweighted by desire.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“At Fourscore,” speech, Harvard Club of New York (1952-01-18)
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First published in the Harvard Alumni Bulletin (23 Feb 1952).
 
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I shall ask no more than that you agree with Dean Inge that even though counting heads is not an ideal way to govern, at least it beats breaking them.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“Democracy: Its Presumptions and Realities,” speech, Federal Bar Association, Washington, DC (1932-03-08)
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First printed in the Federal Bar Association Journal (Mar 1932).
 
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And so when I hear so much impatient and irritable complaint, so much readiness to replace what we have by guardians for us all, those supermen, evoked somewhere from the clouds, whom none have seen and none are ready to name, I lapse into a dream, as it were. I see children playing on the grass; their voices are shrill and discordant as children’s are; they are restive and quarrelsome; they cannot agree to any common plan; their play annoys them; it goes poorly. And one says, let us make Jack the master; Jack knows all about it; Jack will tell us what each is to do and we shall all agree. But Jack is like all the rest; Helen is discontented with her part and Henry with his, and soon they fall again into their old state. No, the children must learn to play by themselves; there is no Jack the master. And in the end slowly and with infinite disappointment they do learn a little; they learn to forbear, to reckon with anther, accept a little where they wanted much, to live and let live, to yield when they must yield; perhaps, we may hope, not to take all they can. But the condition is that they shall be willing at least to listen to one another, to get the habit of pooling their wishes. Somehow or other they must do this, if the play is to go on; maybe it will not, but there is no Jack, in or out of the box, who can come to straighten the game.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“Democracy: Its Presumptions and Realities,” speech, Federal Bar Association, Washington, DC (1932-03-08)
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Collected in The Spirit of Liberty (1953).
 
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Life is made up of a series of judgments on insufficient data, and if we waited to run down all our doubts, it would flow past us.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“On Receiving an Honorary Degree,” speech, Harvard University (1939-01-22)
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First printed in the Harvard Alumni Bulletin (7 Jul 1939)
 
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They taught me, not by precept, but by example, that nothing is more commendable, and more fair, than that a man should lay aside all else, and seek truth; not to preach what he might find; and surely not to try to make his views prevail; but, like Lessing, to find his satisfaction in the search itself.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“On Receiving an Honorary Degree,” speech, Harvard University (1939-06-22)
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Collected in The Spirit of Liberty (1953).
 
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I conceive that there is nothing which gives a man more pause before taking as absolute what his feelings welcome, and his mind deems plausible, than even the flicker of recollection that something of the sort has been tried before, felt before, disputed before, and for some reason or other has now quite gone into Limbo.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“Sources of Tolerance,” speech, University of Pennsylvania Law School (1930-06)
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Historians may be dogmatists, I know, though not so often now as when history was dogma. At least you will perhaps agree that even a smattering of history and especially of letters will go far to dull the edges of uncompromising conviction. No doubt one may quote history to support any cause, as the devil quotes scripture; but modern history is not a very satisfactory side-arm in political polemics; it grows less and less so.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“Sources of Tolerance,” speech, University of Pennsylvania Law School (1930-06)
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Collected in The Spirit of Liberty (1953).
 
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First as to Speech. That privilege rests upon the premise that there is no proposition so uniformly acknowledged that it may not be lawfully challenged, questioned, and debated. It need not rest upon the further premise that there are no propositions that are not open to doubt; it is enough, even if there are, that in the end it is worse to suppress dissent than to run the risk of heresy.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“The Guardians,” Oliver Wendell Holmes Lecture #3, Harvard University (1958)
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Speaking of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
 
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A wise man once said, “Convention is like the shell to the chick, a protection till he is strong enough to break it through.”

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“The Preservation of Personality,” commencement address, Bryn Mawr College (1927-06-02)
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Source of the quotation Hand references is unknown. It is often attributed directly to Hand himself.
 
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Our dangers, as it seems to me, are not from the outrageous but from the conforming; not from those who rarely and under the lurid glare of obloquy upset our moral complaisance, or shock us with unaccustomed conduct, but from those, the mass of us, who take their virtues and their tastes, like their shirts and their furniture, from the limited patterns which the market offers.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“The Preservation of Personality,” speech, commencement, Bryn Mawr College (1927-06-02)
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First printed in the Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin (Oct 1927).
 
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Two conditions are essential to the realization of justice according to law. The law must have an authority supreme over the will of the individual, and such an authority can arise only from a background of social acquiescence, which gives it the voice of indefinitely greater numbers than those of its expositors. Thus, the law surpasses the deliverances of even the most exalted of its prophets; the momentum of its composite will alone makes it effective to coerce the individual and reconciles him to his subserviency. The pious traditionalism of the law has its roots in a sound conviction of this necessity; it must be content to lag behind the best inspiration of its time until it feels behind it the weight of such general acceptance as will give sanction to its pretension to unquestioned dictation.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“The Speech of Justice,” Harvard Law Review (1916-04)
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Collected in The Spirit of Liberty (1953).
 
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The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned but never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest.

Hand - spirit of liberty - wist_info quote

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“The Spirit of Liberty,” speech, “I Am an American Day,” New York (1941-05-21)
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I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“The Spirit of Liberty,” speech, “I Am an American Day,” New York (1941-05-21)
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And what is this liberty which must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few; as we have learned to our sorrow.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“The Spirit of Liberty,” speech, “I Am an American Day,” New York (1941-05-21)
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The condition of our survival in any but the meagerest existence is our willingness to accommodate ourselves to the conflicting interests of others, to learn to live in a social world.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“To Yale Law Graduates,” speech, Yale Law School (1931-06-07)
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Collected in The Spirit of Liberty (1953).
 
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There is no surer way to misread any document than to read it literally; in every interpretation we must pass between Scylla and Charybdis; and I certainly do not wish to add to the barrels of ink that have been spent in logging the route. As nearly as we can, we must put ourselves in the place of those who uttered the words, and try to divine how they would have dealt with the unforeseen situation; and, although their words are by far the most decisive evidence of what they would have done, they are by no means final.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
Guiseppi v. Walling, 144 F.2d 608, 624 (2d Cir. 1944) [concurring]
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Right conclusions are more likely to be gathered out of a multitude of tongues, than through any kind of authoritative selection. To many this is, and will always be, folly; but we have staked upon it our all.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
United States v Associated Press, 52 F. Supp. 362, 372 (1943)
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If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
Speech, Legal Aid Society of New York (1951-02-16)
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“I beseech ye in the bowels of Christ, think that ye may be mistaken.” I should like to have that written over the portals of every church, every school, and every court house, and, may I say, of every legislative body in the United States. I should like to have every court begin, “I beseech ye in the bowels of Christ, think that we may be mistaken.”

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
Testimony, US Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, Special Subcommittee on the Establishment of a Commission on Ethics in Government (1951-06-28)
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This was a favorite phrase of Hand's regarding his own judicial philosophy. Quoting Oliver Cromwell's letter to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (Aug 1650) before the Battle of Dunbar.

Collected as "Morals in Public Life" in Irving Dillard, ed., The Spirit of Liberty (1952).
 
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